The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.
However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”
Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).
What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.
In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.
So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.
At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.
Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.
You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.
But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.